The Owls bowed out of the FA Cup after suffering a somewhat controversial 2-1 defeat at Kidsgrove Athletic. Scott Vernon gave the visitors a deserved lead before Jack Fixter saw red just before half-time. From the resultant penalty, Ruben Wiggins-Thomas slotted home and added a second shortly after the break to leave Clee cursing their luck.
There was a welcome return from injury for Ben Davies and manager Dave Smith opted for his preferred 4-3-3 formation, as follows:
Goal: Theo Richardson
Defence: Tim Lowe, Jack Fixter, Oli Donald, Jon Oglesby
Midfield: Ben Davies, Alex Flett (c), Lewis Collins
Attack: Brody Robertson, Scott Vernon, Brandon Buckley
Subs: Andy Taylor, Adam Millson, Jack Richardson, Matt Bloomer
The visitors started the best on a pleasant sunny afternoon in Staffordshire. No clear chances were created but the Owls were showing the greater invention.
With the clock moving towards 20 played, it came as no surprise when the opening goal arrived. An excellent cross from full-back Oglesby was nodded in by Scott Vernon, who had cleverly found space between two defenders.
Kidsgrove were struggling to create anything of note and it was not until the 34th minute that keeper Richardson was called upon to make his first save. Shortly afterwards though, Clee really should have moved two ahead. Firstly, Collins had an effort blocked and when the loose ball fell to Buckley, the youngster seemed certain to register. Once again, a covering defender managed to deflect the chance away.
The break was looming and the Owls seemed to be comfortably managing proceedings. However, the tie was to be turned on its head in an explosive 60 seconds.
A ball over the top led to Jack Fixter getting caught slightly the wrong side of Malbon on the edge of the area and, when the home skipper crashed to the turf, all eyes turned to the referee. The official must have been 25-yards behind play and there was no flag to indicate an infringement from his well-placed assistant. Nevertheless, a penalty was awarded and, to compound the misery, a straight red shown to the Clee man. Ruben Wiggins-Thomas held his nerve to roll home.
HT Kidsgrove Athletic 1 (Wiggins-Thomas 45 pen) Cleethorpes Town 1 (Vernon 19)
A tactical change at the interval – Adam Millson came on at right-back with Tim Lowe moving to central defence. The unlucky Brandon Buckley was sacrificed, as the 10-men re-grouped as a 4-3-2 line-up.
Kidsgrove could probably sense that momentum has swung their way and they went ahead after 52 minutes. A long floated cross fell about 6-yards out and Ruben Wiggins-Thomas reacted quickest to head in his second.
If the travelling fans now feared the worst, the players reacted well to falling behind. Collins curled narrowly over and Donald towered above his marker at a corner to direct on-target, but it was cleared from under the home crossbar.
During this period, Jack Richardson and Andy Taylor were introduced in place of Ben Davies and Brody Robertson respectively. Both substitutes had clearly been instructed to stay close to Vernon, who was still dominant in the aerial battles.
The Owls were now going for broke in an attempt to force a replay. However, despite straining every sinew, the ball would just not fall favourably. Taylor had a shot palmed away and, in the final bid, keeper Richardson rushed forward to join his colleagues for an injury time corner. However, perhaps fittingly, Mr Mustafa had the final say. The shrill tones of his whistle indicated that a foul had been spotted.
So, the sun set on Clee’s FA Cup hopes for the season and the Owls had to endure back-to-back competitive defeats for the first time since December 2017.
FT Kidsgrove Athletic 2 (Wiggins-Thomas 45 pen, 52) Cleethorpes Town 1 (Vernon 19) Attendance: 193
Aaaarrrrrrrrggggggggggghhhh!! That’s my considered view of the day!
A deeply frustrating Cup exit. For the first 44 minutes, I thought we controlled the tie and expected perhaps victory by a couple of goals. All changed in a moment of course, with the penalty/sending-off. It looked to me that Malbon was “on the way down” before any infringement. I have asked the FA for the referee to provide a report to me. It should be interesting…
My man-of-the-match goes to Scott Vernon. He had had to battle through some rough treatment so far this season and always goes about his work wholeheartedly & without complaint – well played!
Thanks to the small band of fans who made the 3-hour journey down to Staffordshire yesterday. Hope to see you again at Spalding United on Tuesday evening.
Tuesday 10th September – 7.45pm
Spalding United – BetVictor Northern Premier League
Sir Halley Stewart Field, Winfrey Avenue, Spalding, PE11 1DA
To be confirmed
UP THE OWLS!